A Sad Truth And Loss Of Freedoms!
None of us can fail to recognise the pandemic that has been affecting the world, locking us down, stifling our freedoms and irreparably changing our lives possibly for ever. The world is a different place to what it was only 20 months ago.
As Overlander’s we are used to having to navigate a world where politics and religion can restrict the course of our journey but these tend to be a more regional affair affecting often only one country or area and which with a little planning and foresight can be avoided and bypassed.
But the Covid pandemic has been worldwide. Borders have closed and people have been locked down. Initially many Overlanders who found themselves overseas thought they could ride out what was expected to be a short-lived pause of their journeys and once the pandemic was over continue their journey with just another anecdote to add to many on their trip.
But Covid had other ideas and as countries came out of lockdown others went back into lockdown. Travel and more specifically air travel were often accused of being the reason for new variants and increased infections to the point that airports closed, borders closed and even short journeys within country borders were impossible.
This resulted in many Overlanders being forced to return home and the end of what some considered a journey of a lifetime that had taken years of planning and patience to get to the point in their lives that they could undertake such a journey. The lucky ones got to ship their vehicles home, some didn’t but Overlanding as a way of life came to an end as the world closed down.
But from that first pandemic we have seen new pandemics appear. A pandemic of people suddenly starting to appreciate what is on their own doorstep. Sales of vans, SUV’s and 4 x 4 vehicles has jumped massively, motorhome and campervan sales and hire has gone through the roof as everyone starts to look at staying home and exploring their own backyard. Overlanding and camping equipment suppliers have seen a huge rise in orders often being unable to keep up with that demand and many pieces of equipment on waiting lists in months rather than weeks and the second hand market has exploded to fill the gaps.
Campervan conversions have also seen a huge rise in demand with many vans and ready converted vans seeing massive price increases and this coupled with the lack of availability on new vehicles caused by the Covid pandemic and a lack of parts availability worldwide means that the high prices are going to be with us for a bit longer yet.
Outdoor equipment sales have jumped massively. Every bit of water now usually has a plethora of Stand-Up Paddle Boarders fighting for their own piece of water and campsites are full to the brim with spaces at a premium and in some cases prices at a premium too.
Many people have been heading out travelling and camping with no experience or knowledge in what is needed to be safe, comfortable and respectful to both nature and each other. And that brings us to the next pandemic.
A pandemic of selfish self-centred people who believe they can ride roughshod over everyone else, camp where they like and instead of following a mantra of tread lightly and leave no trace in our areas of natural beauty and history they have left a trail of destruction, damaging historical buildings, leaving dirt behind them from dirty toileting with no consideration to other people who use an area, to leaving rubbish strewn camps and emptying toilet cassettes in laybys, rivers and at the side of the road. No one can fail to have seen the headlines in national newspapers and no one area is victim, it’s a nationwide even worldwide scourge as we have read of similar issues in areas in the USA.
No one should condone any of this. It sullies our reputations as overlanders, alienates us from local communities and ultimately as we are seeing now is fueling the rhetoric to further restrictions on the type of traveling, we like to do!
As a result of the actions of these inconsiderate staycationers (we refuse to call them overlanders) there are many groups on social media (NC500 – The Land Weeps, Glen Etive - The Dirty Truth to name two) springing up where locals are shining a huge spotlight on the selfish and disrespectful behaviour of some and putting together a strong argument to their councils and politicians to restrict the freedoms we all enjoy in an attempt to stop the desecration of their local areas and let’s make no mistake in many cases they are winning the argument and when you see some of the stories its easy to understand why!
By the same token many who have seen the news stories of rubbish strewn laybys and camp sites have stepped up to the line to try and undo some of the reputational damage that overlanders, campers, campervaners and motorhomers have received.
We have groups like Overland Bound with their Tread Lightly Campaigns and Trail Guardian Events. There are Motorhomes and Campervans Against Waste doing what they can by cleaning up as they go and Wild Campers Against Waste doing similar and whilst these are great schemes which are sadly needed it’s the selfish inconsiderate few who are making the headlines week after week.
There is an argument that these selfish inconsiderate few just need to be educated or that once overseas cheap holidays are back on the cards they will head back to the likes of Ibiza or Agia Napa! But lets be honest this doesn’t change things it just moves the problem out of our back yard and somewhere else.
Education is important but make no mistake those emptying toilet cassettes in laybys or leaving rubbish strewn campsites don’t need education to know what they are doing is wrong. Only a complete fool would not realise its wrong. What these people lack is a sense of respect!
Respect for their country!
Respect for their fellow humans!
Respect for themselves!
But the damage has been done!
In Scotland Councils are enacting bylaws restricting camping in certain areas and at certain times of year. In Cornwall and even in Wales we are seeing similar.
Car Parks and Forest sites that in the past people were able to stay in overnight by arriving late, leaving early and leaving no trace are now being blocked or gated and No Overnight Stays Permitted signs erected. We have a new Ranger Service in Scotland patrolling the highlands. The Police have increased their presence on routes like the NC500.
Local communities on many of these iconic routes and areas who in the past accepted a certain amount of considerate visitors are now banding together to fight against what they see is selfish and inconsiderate visitors who bring no benefit to their community and leave nothing but dirt and dismay.
This poor behaviour is nothing new but in the past it was very limited however after 2 years of staycation holidays the number of visitors has multiplied 100 fold and where in the past it might be one inconsiderate camper it is now possibly hundreds.
So where does this leave us the respectful considerate camper or overlander. We can bury our heads in the sand and believe it is just the odd bad apple but in recent years the bad apples have increased to the point they are spoiling the whole apple cart.
In the UK we are going to see further restrictions and it is on all of us to adhere to those restrictions, to be respectful to the local communities and areas and to call out inconsiderate behaviour where we can. We need to lead by example, engage with local communities where there is a need and reach compromises that protect the freedoms we enjoy but not whilst eroding the freedoms of the local communities.
Don’t camp in cemeteries, don’t leave rubbish strewn across the ground. If the bin is full take your rubbish with you till you find an empty bin. Go to the toilet and dispose of chemical toilet waste responsibly.
Drive considerately, don't block access roads or park in passing places. Don’t go off road where you will damage local flora and fauna or on private land without the owner’s permission. And be respectful to the locals who work and live in the area you are visiting.
As vaccines make the prospect of putting the Coronavirus Pandemic behind us a reality there will still be a tarnished reputation that will take time to resolve and only by leading by example showing the local communities we support them and turning the spotlight onto members of our own society who fail to follow the principles of leave no trace can we start to build back some of the good will we previously enjoyed but which has been sadly eroded away.